A Day in the Life: From Member to CEO

By: Sal Martino, CAE

Sal Martino brings a member's-eye view and lessons learned in academia to his role as CEO at the American Society of Radiologic Technologists.

Name: Sal Martino, CAE
Position: CEO
Organization: American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT)
Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Organization size: 138,000 members,
110 staff

History: Martino was one of the original faculty members at Hostos Community College, which was founded as part of the City University of New York to address the higher-education needs of the underserved community of the South Bronx. Martino began there as an assistant professor in the radiologic-technology program and eventually rose to the position of associate dean of academic affairs.

But after 20 years in academia, he decided to apply for a director of education position at ASRT and see how the other half lives—the other half of the country as well as another side of his profession.

HCC gave him a two-year sabbatical to pursue the ASRT position: "Everybody was sure that after two years, I would miss New York and definitely want to go back," Martino says. But he ended up putting down roots in Albuquerque and in ASRT. In December 2008, he was selected as CEO of the organization after a national search.

Members'-eye view: Martino believes that his background as a member of ASRT is an advantage to him now. "That's not to negate in any way the value of a nonmember CEO," he says, "but it was much more concrete for me. I've been a member of ASRT for 34 years. I've watched the association grow. But even now, as CEO, I keep up my membership and I put myself in membership mode. … I sit down as Joe Q. Member and go through our publications and say, 'What's relevant here? What's interesting?'"

8:30 a.m.: It's Monday, and I'm returning to the office after a week of business travel. Getting back into the swing of things after a week away is always challenging, and the last few months have involved a lot of external meetings.

My executive administrator Renee and I spend 20 minutes catching up on what I need to know. I can't express how important her work is to our organization. She tells me what's going on in the office and reminds me of everything I need to take care of: Did I finish that presentation? Did I review materials for that meeting? After she and I meet, I spend the next hour catching up on emails and reviewing proposals.

11:00 a.m.: I have a half-hour call scheduled with my counterpart in Canada, the CEO of Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists (CAMRT). It's a great conversation and a chance for us to discuss what's going on in Canada and what the hot topics will be at its annual meeting, which I'm attending.

I like to say that I am reinventing the art of the phone call. Email is good for one or two questions back and forth. But when you get into an email trail of two or three days, you could probably accomplish the same thing in a 20-minute phone call. I'm back on the phone much more often these days.

11:30 a.m.: I came out of academia, where we had a campus and you were always walking from one building to another, so I like to take some time to walk around the building here. I travel a lot, and I don't want to become the absent CEO who nobody sees. I pop my head into an administrative assistant's cubicle—she just returned from maternity leave—to ask if she's getting any sleep. I try really hard to stay connected with staff—more than just "did you finish that project yet?"

I do a lot of what I call drive-bys: How are things going, what's new? Any major problems I should know about? I really find that useful. I want to stay close to the pulse of the office.

Noon: I generally eat lunch at my desk. That's when I get to read The New York Times online and trade publications. The reading is something I enjoy, but it's also important because my association and my job are so connected to the external environment. Just as one example, when the healthcare-reform legislation was being debated, there were a lot of potential effects on the medical imaging community and our members.

1:00 p.m.: I've set up some short touch-base meetings with my senior executives this afternoon. I believe in personal interaction; we've been emailing while I was away, but it's still important to update each other face to face. It's especially important because Tuesday morning is our senior executive meeting, and I find that those go more smoothly if I've done my catch up on Monday.

First, I meet with my VP of education and research about a new learning management system we're developing to host our own online courses. Then I chat with my VP of governance and member services about some issues related to our state affiliates.

My VP of government relations and I talk about some new cosponsors for our CARE Bill, a piece of national legislation ASRT has been working on.

4:00 p.m.: My last meeting of the day is with my COO. Here's the guy that makes the trains run on time, and for that I am really grateful. He's an RT, but also a CAE, so I get the best of both worlds: someone who can run operations but also understands the professional issues. Right now he's working on getting us a new security system, since some people got past our old one and managed to steal copper pipes out of our heating and ventilation ducts on the roof.

After we're done, I have an hour or two to myself to concentrate on the big picture. As a CEO, I never know what I'm going to find when I come into the office. I don't know if it's going to be something related to staff, or the board, or a member. Or maybe it's going to be missing copper pipes.

As CEO, the most important thing you do is balance conflicting forces. Let's face it: There's nothing in life that's black and white. There are a lot of shades of gray. You have to balance between delegating appropriately and becoming too detached; you have to balance between staying involved in the external environment and staying connected to what's going on in the office.

It's pretty challenging but never boring. I think the reason I enjoy it so much goes back to my academic days. We were in a stressful environment in the South Bronx, with a very high-risk student population. Things were always happening in the neighborhood or on campus—not to mention that when you're dealing with students, there's always something coming up. But at the same time, it was very rewarding. I felt I was making a difference. I learned that I thrive on that kind of atmosphere. I like the energy and keeping busy. I feel the same way about my work at ASRT. We are making a difference in our members' professional lives, and that is very rewarding at the end of the day.